Friday, 24 January 2020

#10: Finding solutions to problems

What is your number one problem at work? Let us imagine that this problem could be magically solved tomorrow. What would your next biggest problem be, and the third on the list? Are you really concentrating on the right problem? Maybe there is a problem that is at the top of your list but actually the second or third problem is, in reality, your biggest problem. Either way, finding solutions to problems can be difficult, should not be tackled alone and benefit from a diversity of perspectives.

Action Learning is a structured and facilitated peer-based approach to identifying problems, reflecting on them and resolving them. It takes place in a group, mostly between 6 and 12 people and can be done face to face or through video conferencing tools like Zoom. Action learning has a long track record in the UK and internationally, enabling people to find solutions to intractable problems and take the actions needed. It has been a key element in the success of the leaders who have been supported by the Clore Social Leadership Programme since its inception back in 2010. I am the Clore Social Leadership ‘chapter host’ for the North of Scotland and our group has Action Learning Sets embedded in our face to face and virtual meetings for members. In our most recent meeting, one of our members brought a ‘job interview problem’ to successful fruition and has a way forward with a new senior position. So how does it work, and why?

Problem insight

So think again, for a moment, about your biggest problem at work right now. With that problem painfully held in your mind, ask yourself the following questions:

Am I able to clearly articulate the problem to others?
Am I struggling with the ‘wrong’ problem?
How can I uncover other’s insights into this problem?

Often when an individual leader is asked to ‘present’ a problem succinctly to the group, what follows can be a less than coherent ramble. That is fine and perfectly normal, although sometimes it is to the surprise of the presenter who thought they were clear about it!

Problem resolution

It is important for leaders to have a safe space amongst peers, outwith their organisation, where they can safely air and share a problem for resolution. First of all, it is reassuring that your concerns and struggles are shared by others, some of whom have successfully addressed similar problems in the past. Secondly, each peer in the group will approach the resolution from a different viewpoint and you will come out of the group with suggestions and actions on practical ways forward for resolving this problem.

Problem-solving reflection

Time to think and reflect is a precious commodity. We hear about people being ‘time-poor’ and that ‘capacity’ is the issue. Action learning sets provide that important time and space to think out loud, to hear yourself talking about a problem amongst trusted peers. Maybe this is the first time you have had a chance to talk about the struggles that have been going on in your head for some time, maybe waking you up in the middle of the night? Being part of an action learning set requires commitment to the group and your peers but also to your own learning. Ultimately you are valuing yourself. Through action learning, you can find solutions to problems, but you can also be a better coach, mentor and buddy and learn to unlock excellence in yourself and in others. The concept of ‘rounds’ (turn-taking) gives people equal opportunity to talk, and the question and answer nature of the group builds your repertoire of ‘good questions’ to ask those who are struggling with a problem.

If you are already in an Action Learning Set then great - you are developing your skills and experience that will support you to resolve problems across your life. If you would like to know more about facilitation or finding an Action Learning Set then you can start here for more information.